In the half-dozen trips I’ve taken to Kurdistan, not ONCE have we been able to finish the food on our table, whether we’re a party of two or of 8. Part of the charm and tradition of Kurdish hospitality is cooking and serving too much… that way if others drop by, there’s always some to spare.
At Shkar Restaurant, a popular local hangout in Sulaimaniya, the tradition is alive and well. To start, a server wheels a cart to your table and drops off chicken soup for each diner. He shows off a small platter of assorted mezze.
“Interested?” he asks.
Sure, we say. Bring us each a small appetizer plate… for $3, it can’t be THAT much, right?
WRONG. We’re each served an assortment of 4 or 5 salads, dips, and vegetables, piled high enough to make the plate groan. Another waiter wanders by with arms full of hot bread, fresh off the griddle. He plops 3 down in a basket – one for each of us, but each disc bigger than our torsos. We haven’t spent $10 yet and already it’s too much.
For lunch? A simple menu of meat dishes and rice dishes: kebab, donner, grilled meat, biryani, Kurdish rice, couscous. We each select a meat and decide on several starches to share.
I choose turkey – which is rare on menus outside the United States – and is served here boiled in a broth… as near to fall-off-the-bone as a turkey can get. My friends order various cuts of meat; one looks like lamb shank, the other like oxtail.
And then the carbs arrive – oh, the carbs. A mountain of Kurdish couscous (which is tossed with tomato paste and spices); a platter of regular rice, the smaller grained Kurdish rice studded with corn kernels, and a sweet demilitarized zone between the two built of fideo noodles and raisins.
OK, fine. We can handle this. We start scooping and spooning onto our plates… until more dishes arrive, unbidden. Bowls of soft eggplant, okra poached in tomato sauce, beans, olives, a plate of raw vegetables, and a bowl of stewed, sweet dried apricots. A drinks man comes by. Sugar drink? Yogurt drink? Naaah.
We scoop and spoon and scoop and spoon until we can’t take any more… and still, the table is full. Two and a half naans are left; smaller but still impressive mountains of grains; all the vegetables, and a whole turkey haunch. Unfortunately, strangely, despite the excess, they don’t have doggy bags here… the trash cart comes by next, dumping the contents of each plate into the bag and stacking the dirty dishes.
We pay our reasonable bill and head out into the sun; fat and happy but perplexed at how much we left behind. Not far away from here people are hungry, having just escaped Syria, or Sinjar. The hospitality is epic, and lovely… but there’s a fine line between generosity and wastefulness, and I have the sneaking suspicion we just crossed it.